Enhancing women’s leadership in the South African social housing sector

By Jo Ferris-Davies, Rooftops Canada

After an intensive consultation process, the Rooftops Canada Equal Spaces Project finalized the Gender Equality Strategy for Social Housing in South Africa in February. All the main local stakeholders are on board, and we are starting to implement priority interventions. I think there will be some lessons for the Canadian social housing movement especially in light of the Canadian government’s commitment to gender based analysis in the new National Housing Strategy.

Jo Ferris Davies with workshop participants

Workshop to complete the Gender Equality Strategy


I recently had the pleasure of facilitating a workshop with staff from the Social Housing Regulatory Authority (SHRA) to develop its plan for enhancing women’s leadership and mobility in the social housing sector. This involved people from across the SHRA’s departments – Accreditation, Corporate Services, Project Funding, Compliance Reporting and Monitoring, and Sector Development and Transformation. The SHRA is a bit like our CMHC – it plays funding, regulatory and capacity building roles.

According to recent SHRA data, about 1/3 of all Board members and key managers in South African social housing institutions (SHIs) are women. This is pretty great compared to the corporate sector in South Africa or anywhere else. About ¾ of people in these positions are “African Coloured or Indian” – which is very important in terms of broader transformation issues here. However, we are all committed to bringing ever more women into leadership and making sure that all SHIs achieve gender equality.

SHRA Workshop Womens Leadership

Workshop with the SHRA on women’s leadership in social housing

The workshop participants agreed that to enhance women’s leadership and mobility in social housing, the SHRA will need to establish clear policies and performance indicators. These will start as targets and allow for flexibility in small SHIs with few staff. This should be linked to a training and support program. The SHRA should also consistently promote women’s leadership including measuring SHIs’ efforts when considering funding for project capital grants and capacity building. Finally, the SHRA should routinely report on the status of women leadership in the sector and its own staff and Board leadership should broadcast these policy directions.

 To ensure there is broad sector buy-in to establish appropriate policies, programs and indicators on women’s leadership, the SHRA will organize a workshop with sector stakeholders in August.

We have also started work on two of the most critical aspects of the Gender Equality Strategy – ensuring the security of women and children living in social housing, and responding to gender based violence. Future blogs will report on these efforts.

Canada’s new housing strategy necessarily focuses on women’s rights to access decent, safe and affordable housing. There is no mention of women’s leadership in the housing sector. We hope to share some of our emerging South African experiences with interested social and co-op housing organizations.


About Rooftops Canada

Rooftops Canada is the international development program of co-operative and social housing organizations in Canada. Rooftops Canada works with partner organizations to improve housing conditions, build sustainable communities and develop a shared vision of equitable global development. Rooftops Canada's focus is on disadvantaged communities in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and Eastern Europe.
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